Fourth of July
Natalia J. Garland
This year I'm celebrating the Fourth of July with a parade of
literary quotations. Below are excerpts from essays, speeches,
stories, and poems written by people who seem to appreciate some
aspect of America. Yes, I know there are problems in America;
there always have been. But on the Fourth we honor our country
for the ideals of and the realized benefits of liberty and
In after years, when I passed as an
American among Americans, if I was suddenly made aware of the past
that lay forgotten,--if a letter from Russia, or a paragraph in
the newspaper, or a conversation overheard in the street-car,
suddenly reminded me of what I might have been,--I thought it
miracle enough that I, Mashke, the granddaughter of Raphael the
Russian, born to humble destiny, should be at home in an American
metropolis, be free to fashion my own life, and should dream my
dreams in English phrases.
The Promised Land, 1912.
Ocean people are different from land people.
The ocean never stops saying and asking into ears, which don't
sleep like eyes. Those who live by the sea examine the driftwood
and glass balls that float from foreign ships. They let scores
of invisible imps loose out of found bottles. In a scoop of salt
water, they revive the dead blobs that have been beached in storms
and tides: fins, whiskers, and gills unfold; mouths, eyes, and
colors bloom and spread. Sometimes ocean people are given to
understand the newness and oldness of the world; then all morning
they try to keep that boundless joy like a little sun inside their
chests. The ocean also makes its people know immensity.
But China has a long
round coastline, and the northern people enclosed Peiping, only
one hundred miles from the sea, with walls and made roads westward
across the loess. The Gulf of Chihli has arms, and beyond, Korea,
and beyond that, Japan. So the ocean and hunger and some other
urge made the Cantonese people explorers and
---Maxine Hong Kingston,
China Men, 1980.
O beautiful for pilgrim feet,
Whose stern, impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm they soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!
---Katherine Lee Bates,
American the Beautiful, second stanza.
The revolution of America presented in politics
what was only theory in mechanics. So deeply rooted were all the
governments of the old world, and so effectually had the tyranny
and the antiquity of habit established itself over the mind, that
no beginning could be made in Asia, Africa, or Europe, to reform
the political condition of man. Freedom had been hunted round the
globe; reason was considered as rebellion; and the slavery of fear
had made men afraid to think.
The Rights of Man, 1792.
Go Down Moses
The Lord told Moses what to do,
Let my people go;
To lead the children of Israel through,
Let my people go.
Go Down Moses, early 18th century.
Theme for English B
It's not easy to know what is true for you or me
at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I'm what
I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you:
hear you, hear me--we two--you, me, talk on this page.
(I hear New York, too.) Me--who?
Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.
I like to work, read, learn, and understand life.
I like a pipe for a Christmas present,
or records--Bessie, bop, or Bach.
I guess being colored doesn't make me not like
the same things other folks like who are other races.
So will my page be colored that I write?
Being me, it will not be white.
But it will be
a part of you, instructor.
You are white--
yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.
Theme for English B, third stanza, 1949.
What a name a city has--What name a State,
river, sea, mountains, wood, prairie, has--is no indifferent
matter.--All aboriginal names sound good. I was asking for
something savage and luxuriant, and behold here are the aboriginal
names. I see how they are being preserved. They are honest
words--they give the true length, breadth, depth. They all fit.
Mississippi!--the word winds with chutes--it rolls a stream three
thousand miles long. Ohio, Connecticut, Ottawa, Monongahela, all
An American Primer, 1855-1860.
Never will I allude to the English Language
or tongue without exultation. This is the tongue that spurns
laws, as the greatest tongue must. It is the most capacious vital
tongue of all--full of ese, definiteness and power--full of
sustenance.--An enormous treasure-house, or range of
treasure-houses, arsenals, granary, chock full with so many
contributions from the north, and from the south, from
Scandinavia, from Greece and Rome,--from Spaniards, Italians and
the French--that its own sturdy home-dated Angles-bred words have
long been outnumbered by the foreigners whom they lead--which is
all good enough, and indeed must be.--America owes immeasurable
respect and love to the past, and to many ancestries, for many
inheritances--but of all that America has received from the past,
from the mothers and fathers of laws, arts, letters, etc., by far
the greatest inheritance is the English Language--so long in
An American Primer, 1855-1860.
'When I First
Saw Hoover Dam'
Since the afternoon in 1967 when I
first saw Hoover Dam, its image has never been entirely absent
from my inner eye. I will be talking to someone in Los Angeles,
say, or New York, and suddenly the dam will materialize, its
pristine concave face gleaming white against the harsh rusts and
taupes and mauves of that rock canyon hundreds or thousands of
miles from where I am. I will be driving down Sunset Boulevard,
or about to enter a freeway, and abruptly those power transmission
towers will appear before me, canted vertiginously over the
tailrace. Sometimes I am confronted by the intakes and sometimes
by the shadow of the heavy cable that spans the canyon and
sometimes by the ominous outlets to unused spillways, black in the
lunar clarity of the desert light. Quite often I hear the
turbines. Frequently I wonder what is happening at the dam this
instant, at this precise intersection of time and space, how much
water is being released to fill downstream orders and what lights
are flashing and which generators are in full use and which just
The White Album, 1970.
The Anasazi drink from underground rivers.
The petroglyph cries out in the silence of the rock
The tourist looks at. The past is beautiful.
How few the implements and how carefully made
The dwelling place, against the wind and heat.
Looking at a photograph, as at a petroglyph,
How little there is to go on. 'The darkest objects
Reflect almost no light, or none at all.
Causing no changes in the salts in the emulsion.'
In the brilliant light and heart-stifling heat,
The scratchings on the surface of the rock,
Utterings, scriptions, bafflings of the spirit,
The bewildered eye reads nonsense in the dazzle;
In the black depth of the rock the river says nothing,
Reflections, swift, intent, purposeless,
Photograph from a Book: Six Poems, Poem V.
Since the beginning of our American history, we have been
engaged in change--in a perpetual peaceful revolution--a
revolution which goes on steadily, quietly adjusting itself to
changing conditions--without the concentration camp of the
quick-lime in the ditch. The world order which we seek is the
cooperation of free countries, working together in a friendly,
This nation has
placed its destiny in the hands and heads and hearts of its
millions of free men and women; and its faith in freedom under the
guidance of God. Freedom means the supremacy of human rights
everywhere. Our support goes to those who struggle to gain those
rights or keep them. Our strength is our unity of
---Franklin Delano Roosevelt,
Message to Congress, 1941.
'The Love of
It is sometimes said that the ruling passion
in America is the love of money. That seems to me a complete
mistake. The ruling passion is the love of business,
which is something quite different. ... His joy is in that
business itself and in its further operation, in making it
greater and better organized and a mightier engine in the general
life. The adventitious personal profit in it is the last thing
he thinks of, the last thing he is skillful in bringing about;
and the same zeal and intensity is applied in managing a college,
or a public office, or a naval establishment, as is lavished on
private business, for it is not a motive of personal gain that
stimulates to such exertions. It is the absorbing, satisfying
character of the activities themselves: it is the art, the
happiness, the greatness of them. So that in beginning life in
such a society, which has developed a native and vital tradition
out of its practice, you have good reason to feel that your spirit
will be freed, that you will begin to realize a part of what you
are living for.
Tradition and Practice, 1904.
Have a safe, happy,
and literary Fourth of July. (Written 07/03/06: bibliography available.)
Until we meet